Santa and Martins, you combine your passion for wine with your passion for product design, art and architecture. How did the two of you get into wine design and architecture? 

Martins: I studied architecture at Bauhaus University in Weimar and spent one year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, which was one of the turning points in my life. The university was located just opposite a wine shop, so I started stopping by, buying wine, making my first wine notes and paying great attention to how the shop was organized. After returning to Latvia, my family and I opened Vīna Studija, a chain of wine shops, restaurants and bars. This was my first successful interior design project, where everything was made from scratch. I was also responsible for the wine portfolio at Vīna Studija, so the wine topic became even more important. That led to a WSET Diploma and a lot of winery visits. 


Santa: And then we met. We were immediately drawn to each other and started working together. His passion for wine was contagious, soon enough I was immersed in the wine world as well. We opened the first Champagne bar with a shop in the Baltics called Modernists, got some international attention, and collaborated with Charles Dufour on a limited edition champagne. We also got involved in a winery project in Piedmont and two years ago we moved to Austria. Currently we are running Studio Pilens and launched our wine furniture brand My Wine Design in January 2021. It has been a very busy period for us. 

 

How do you approach an architectural project for a winery or restaurant from a conceptual point of view? What are your design principles?  

Martins: The most important thing for me is and has always been the story behind the winery or a project. The reason is simply that design can not be separated from the people, it rather must support the people. It is a visual language that brings people together and tells a family history, an idea or a philosophy of a brand. 

 

Santa:  We do pay great respect to the people who trust us. That is why everything we do has a touch of perfection. We look at the references from the past, add functionality to it and top it with our aesthetic vision. Our philosophy is to make the wine world look better.

How does the geography and history of a winery, the type and the taste of its wines influence a spatial design concept? 

Martins: It does influence everything, because we have a terroir-driven approach in our wine design projects. We work with local materials, for example marble or terracotta in Italy, or gneiss in Austria. We always cooperate with local craftsmen and usually prefer to give things from the past a second life, instead of just destroying and rebuilding. We spend a lot of time on the site, because it is important to get the feeling of light and landscape and to see how our products can be integrated so that they look natural, perfectly set. 

Santa: We also interview the people who work for the winery, we ask for their opinion, look at their habits. We want them to feel comfortable about the place. A spatial design concept has to be natural and not staged. We love to see the patina of time and aim to create a living interior.  

  

How would you describe your vision of contemporary wine architecture and fine living?

Santa: Contemporary wine architecture is a process happening today, yet retaining a timeless quality. It is the legacy. It is a process that has opened doors for more to come, leaving enough air and space for change. 

Fine living for me is a synonym of slow living. It is a luxury today. I share the ideals of French artist Marcel Ducham and agree that things of great importance in art or in architecture always have to be slowly produced. No speed! No rush. There is nothing worse for me than an overwhelmingly decorative design, rapidly produced, that has no function, no value, no story. I do love layered interiors, rich use of materials and fabrics, but it has to have a purpose and it takes time. I know that the modern materials allow us to work much faster, but deadlines create stress, stress creates mess! Who wants a messy architecture that will not stand the test of time?!

 

Martins: I am fascinated by timeless design and elegant minimalism. Wine architecture and design is a reflection of the values I want to spread, which means that I aim to see the person behind every winery, and every bottle of wine. My task is to create a beautiful framing. I like to set up interiors like art galleries to create a special experience that inspires the visitor. With My Wine Design we do support those experiences.

 

Can you tell us a little more about your latest projects? 

Martins: After a successful completion of the first part of the winery Enrico Rivetto in Barolo, its tasting rooms, wine shop and museum, we are currently working on the second phase of construction works, planning the vinification room and winemaking areas. Enrico Rivetto has taken over the winery from his father, he is a winemaker with a great vision. Azienda Agricola Rivetto is going to be the first winery in Barolo and Barbaresco that receives the prestigious Demeter biodynamic status. From a conventional winery in Serralunga d'Alba, where his wines grow, Mr Rivetto has created a whole ecosystem, a bio farm, where every bee counts. When we were invited to work on the winery project, we were so in love with its biodynamic, sustainable concept that it was very important to restore instead of build from scratch. We convinced him to leave all the terracotta tiles his ancestors have stepped their feet on. At the same time we added some contrast, for example a neon sign outside the house, and the My Wine Design wine racks that look very chic and contemporary on those old walls.

We're also designing an interior for a little boutique hotel in Langenlois: Mühlenhof Rooms, opening this spring. It is located in one of the most beautiful wine regions in Austria. Langenlois city is home to Bründlmayer, Loimer, Jurtschitsch and other great winemakers. So that makes Mühlenhof a getaway for wine tourists who wish to relax after a long day of different experiences. It is a hotel with minimalistic, modern design filled with iconic furniture and wine art. So by default it is great if you value design travelling, too. Mühlenhof is an old mill, so we colored the walls in the color of wet flour. We built the DNA based on the attributes: wine, flour, stone, air, wood.  Furthermore, we were invited to take part in a reconstruction contest of a regionally important vinotheque and tourism office project called Ursin House. We built the concept on an idea of a regional map, combining a tourism office and a wine shop. You can find the winery on the map, go visit or just buy a bottle to take home. The shop has a slot nr navigation system. (slot number navigation system?) The style is very functional, because we had to consider around 40 wineries, and make them equal. Also the space lacks light, so we worked with reflecting materials, making it optically larger. A visitor must have a feeling of a gallery, where he can easily find everything himself.  At the same time we do some branding and documentaries for local wineries in Kamptal and Kremstal and work on the second collection Season II of My Wine Design

 

 

Sounds like fun and extremely diversified. What materials do you prefer and what role does nature play in your work? 

Santa:  We do work with natural materials as much as possible. The feel of stone, wood, metal is crucial. It ages so beautifully. Martin just mentioned that we are very terroir-driven, so the color palettes have to feel very natural, and they have to have a local context. The My Wine Design collection is based on the color palette you can see in the vineyards throughout the year - from frosty zinc to deep red. We also introduced a Wine Art collection that is inspired by Greek mythology, and the drink of Gods - wine. 

 

             

 

As a couple, how do you interact with each other during your work?

Martins: With the greatest respect. I have the understanding of form, function and space, while Santa is responsible for colors and materials.

 

Santa: I really enjoy working with Martins. He is so talented, has taught me to look at the practical side of design. The perfection of details, where every single screw has a function. When we work on projects I always try to imagine being the client and ask uncomfortable questions that might come up, so we keep on track. Most importantly, I always have a bottle of Champagne in the fridge, to throw a little party. There is no life without fun. (laughs)

 

Indeed. What does contemporary wine culture mean to you?

Martins: It means listening to the stories. Seeing the design language. Nowadays, it really is not only about the drink. It is about the people who have put great effort in it, about the winery one visits, about the bottle the wine is aged in. The label. So many little details.

 

How do you celebrate wine culture in your day-to-day lives?

Martins: When we moved from Riga (Latvia) to Langenlois (Austria) we spent every single day driving around the vineyards, celebrating the fact that we had moved. It was so inspiring. It was less about the wine and really more about nature. 

 

Santa: Of course we have a nice collection of wines, where every bottle is treasured, because in most cases we know the people, the winemakers. When we open a bottle at the dinner table, it is never random. Martins goes to the cellar to choose, gets lost for 15 minutes and then comes back and introduces his choice.

 

Which wine drinking traditions have you cultivated from your family and do you cultivate today?

Martins: I was born in Latvia, where we didn’t have any wine drinking traditions. Good wine has only been present in my life for the last 15, maybe 20 years, and gaining understanding of wine takes time. Nowadays I put some effort into teaching my own kids about wine. First to smell, to see, to feel a wine and then when they are old enough - to taste.   

 

Santa: My wine memories start in the vineyards of Loire Valley, where I was taken as a child to spend the summer holidays. Later on, we continued our trip to Bordeaux, where my parents wanted to pick up some of the best wines of the region. It was around 1992 that I fell in love with the whole lifestyle of fine living, as we opened the wines we bought in the backyard of Chateau Villaumaire. Endless nights of chatter, music, shared baguettes and wine. As a child I felt happy to see this bohemian world of bon vivants. It left a deep impression on me.

 

What does your wine cellar look like? 

Martins: Like an art gallery. It is always a special moment for me when I enter a wine cellar. It is revealing something that has been hidden for ages, bottles that have been kept away from light just to preserve the taste and the look of the bottle. It is the same with an art archive or art gallery. An exhibition is always set so that the viewer/visitor can “read” what the author wants to tell. Isn't it the same with a wine cellar? It is always someone's collection, a curated collection the owner is willing to show. A wine label can be considered a form of art as well.

Our wine cellar art gallery is located in the basement of a 16th century house, all in white, spacious. Enough space for imagination and transformation. I have organized everything by terroir. I also have my very special champagne room and a family archive with birth year vintages of our four kids.

 Which art pieces, wine treasures and stories does it contain?

Martins: I am not a wine collector who is price- or name-driven. There are certainly some special bottles, but my passion is finding the next big star of the industry. So I do have rarities, unicorn wines, a fine collection of grower champagne. The greatest treasures are signed bottles. And memories of the winery visits. Those are the things no one can take away, nor buy.

What are your specific criteria and reasons for collecting special wines?

Santa: There are no rules. I am very open minded. I do pay great attention to the basics, because everyone is smart enough to buy an expensive, iconic bottle, whereas to find something great from the basics is not that easy. That's my challenge.

 

Martins, you mentioned at the beginning that you have a WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits, you are also an awarded Chevalier of the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne. Do you plan to become a sommelier or a winemaker one day?

Martins: It just happened. I don't tolerate a dilettante approach, so when I started working with wine, I understood that it requires understanding and knowledge. It is just about showing respect and wine really is my passion. On the other hand Chevalier of the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne was a nice gesture. I am thankful, it made me quite happy at a point, because I am now an ambassador of the drink I love.

I do not plan to become a winemaker, I just believe it might happen.

 

Which wine from your cellar would you choose for the following occasions and why? Your wedding day anniversary, an evening with friends on a warm summer night and an afternoon in an armchair while reading a book.

Martins: For our anniversary we would drink Emmanuel Brochet Les Hauts Chardonnay 2008, extra brut Champagne. It is our wedding champagne and therefore filled with memories. It is also my most favorite champagne. It is one of those you cannot describe in exact words. We drink it rarely, so we follow its amazing evolution from being shy, but precise in its youth and developing serious complexity and depth with some bottle age.  

An evening with friends on a warm summer night would not be perfect without a bottle of Brut Nature Champagne - ideally from my dear friend Charles Dufour. A rare style of slightly pink champagne from a single vineyard Le Corroy. It is so refreshing and it always leads to a second bottle. But I would never go for the same bottle in a row because an evening with like-minded friends is the perfect opportunity to taste a few bottles and discover something new.  

An afternoon in an armchair, while reading a book is an absolute luxury for me since we have four children, so we don't have a lot of time for ourselves. However, my choice for this idyll would be a bottle of outstanding Sekt (sparkling wine) from our new hometown Langenlois.

A Grüner Veltliner Reserve 2016 Sekt made by Alwin and Stefanie Jurtschitsch. Their Sekt has surprised me in a few blind tastings in a row and therefore it would be my choice for a “slow” kind of evening.  It feels like a rising star but still is an affordable Sekt. 

 

Can you recommend any wine bars, wineries and wine hotels in Austria and Germany? 

Martins: The current situation has changed the perception of going out. So instead of a restaurant visit we now enjoy some great picnic spots like a picnic around Spitz, overlooking the Danube river is the best if paired with takeaway from Hofmeisteri Hirtzberger. Or a choice between exotic or European sushi by Roland Huber aka Esslokal on the warmest slopes of Heiligenstein. Or a Backhenderl take-away from Heurigenhof Bründlmayer, paired with a trio of Sekt to be enjoyed in their wine garden. In case we miss the big city, a divine Semmel with Beinschinken from Joseph's Brot is a great option. It is often the reason for our Sunday trips to Vienna. We then enjoy it while sitting on the panel of our Defender.

Nice! Which other wine architecture and wine furniture-related studios and designers inspire you on a global scale? 

Martins: The timeless classics - Dieter Rams and Jean Prouvé. 

Santa: My design approach is quite different, because I have a background in the fashion industry, so I am looking for inspiration all the time. Miuccia Prada for instance is a great inspiration. For me, anything might be transformed into an interior, like a leaf, an old tapestry or a book cover. Yet I do like interiors by Marella Agnelli, Dimore Studio and Carlo Mollino. 

 

Last question: what is your biggest dream?

Martins: To have a full cellar. (laughs)

Santa: I am on my way to it, so I'd best not spoil the surprise for all of us. 

 

About

Studio Pilens was founded by architect Martins Pilens and his wife, artist Santa Pilens, in 2019. In line with their contemporary wine furniture and accessories brand, My Wine Design, Martins and Santa have focused their endeavors on wine architecture where they combine the aesthetics of functional and forward-thinking design with elegant minimalism. My Wine Design creates wine furniture that is both organizational and decorative while Studio Pilens is focused on translating the stories of their clients and traditions into a timeless visual environment, crafted from natural materials that mirror the local surroundings: wineries, tasting rooms, cellars and wine bars are carefully curated as translations of their people’s legacy. 

Instagram: @studiopilens